Smoothies: for Adults or sugar overload?

I’ve long been a fan of Shawn Phillips, author of Strength for Life: The Fitness Plan for the Rest of Your Life. Over the past few years, I’ve become somewhat more than a Facebook Friend. In September of 2010 I was curled up in a ball in my bunk in the Barrels Huts at 12,000′. I drank some bad water and had severe diarrhea and cramps that almost stopped me from successfully qualifying for the Elbrus Race 2010, a mountain running race to the summit of 18,510 ft (5642 meters) Mount Elbrus, highest peak in Europe and one of the Seven Summits. Shawn called to cheer me up, and help me get my spirits back after the event doctor had pulled me from the race, severely dehydrated and at risk of HAPE.

USA Pro Cycling Challenge with Shawn Phillips
USA Pro Cycling Challenge with Shawn Phillips

Earlier today, Shawn blogged about The Fruit-Smoothie and Other Health Food Myths [note, this article is no longer posted] and I have to say I totally agree with the concept here and was inspired to write this post.

Time is a major issue for most people on the way up in life—it drives us to make decisions we’d otherwise do differently. Heck, fast-food didn’t become a $200 billion annual business because it’s so delicious and energizing! — Shawn Phillips

Seems like a few years ago, the whole green smoothie thing has taken hold of America, and people bragged to me about how I was eating like them, since I did green smoothies too. I looked at their recipes, with like a pound of fruit, and all the fructose that goes with it. Trust me, a pound of fruit does not a “spinach smoothie” make.


I realize there are sane, reasonable alternatives that probably don’t taste as much like a sugar-bomb, like this one:

1/2 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
1 cup fresh pineapple (about 125 grams)
2 tablespoons granola (preferably homemade)
1 small or 1/2 large carrot, peeled and sliced or diced (about 50 grams)
2 ice cubes (optional)
Carrot sticks or curls for garnish
· Nutritional information per serving: 207 calories; 4 grams fat; 0 grams saturated fat; 1 gram polyunsaturated fat; 2 grams monounsaturated fat; 0 milligrams cholesterol; 43 grams carbohydrates; 5 grams dietary fiber; 37 milligrams sodium; 4 grams protein — Smoothies for Grownups – The New York Times

Seems fairly benign, right? But look, 43 gm of sugar? That’s a tad under 11 teaspoons. Four grams of protein? One egg white. So yeah, have an egg white and eleven teaspoons of sugar and tell me how freaking awesomely healthy you’re eating. And that’s just for a homemade smoothie intentionally created to be lower sugar – for adults as it claims. But many people buy their smoothies premade from a bar. Most of these are poured out of a carton, even the “whole foods” ones.

Smoothies are also very high in sugar content. An original size Banana Berry smoothie from Jamba Juice contains 82 grams of sugar. That’s more than double your recommended 40 grams of sugar a day. — Get your food facts straight – Binghamton University student paper

Shake Ingredients
Breakfast Shake Ingredients

There is a big difference in the recipe of my shake – no fruit sugar:

1-1/2 scoops Vanilla BSN Syntha-6 Protein Powder
1 scoop Amazing Grass Energy Green Superfood Lemon Lime
5 gm creatine
5 gm BCAA
5 gm l-glutamine
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
Mix in a blender with 2 cups water

300 calories, 7 gm fat, 17 gm carbs, 35 gm protein. Compared to that above Grownup Smoothie – roughly 1/3 the carbs, 10x the protein, and 2x the fat.
(for my evening shake, or when I’m in a higher-calorie phase of training I substitute FullStrength for the Syntha-6)

This is actually a much more balanced nutritional profile than the example “grownup” smoothie, especially for someone who actually works out, and really, someone who does a non-workout workout and drinks that grownup smoothie and can’t make progress needs to make some serious changes …

Update: 3 March 2014 – from “The 100 Calorie Diet Plan” [CLICK HERE]

I need to step aside here and answer a common question. I get it a lot. “What about smoothies?” No. Just no. Let’s take the example of the woman with a daily need of 1400 calories, or 14 food portions in a day. Let’s assume it’s a pack of yogurt, some raspberries, some strawberries, some graham crackers, some cherries, some celery, some avocado… you’re getting this point, right? Yes, toss all that in the blender, and after a minute of watching the cool swirling mass through the clear container, you have a 1400 calorie “smoothie”. Chug that. Remember, in 24 hours you can have another one. I’m basically against the smoothie concept for that very reason.

Right now (Feb 2012) I’m experimenting with Intermittent Fasting, based on a recent workshop I did with Chad Waterbury, and the above shake recipe is generally my only meal immediately after my morning training session until after my afternoon session (depending on if I also do a noon training). (update: I’ve evolved back a bit into having a couple of these shakes as my daytime meals, and then eating more regularly in the evening, more like the original Warrior Diet methodology)


I don’t mean to sound rude, or demeaning, by any means, that’s not my intent. But I thought that a few of my followers would be interested in analyzing their own lives, their own diets, their own rationalizations, and see if there are gaps, or holes, or missing pieces to the puzzle. If they’re buying commercial or fast food smoothies, or if they’re putting in a pound of high-fructose fruit to mask the taste of their healthy spinach, if they’re adding sugar to make it swallowable. What is the answer for you, as an individual, and if you’re at a healthy weight, healthy body composition, healthy level of fitness, and you’re happy with that, then no changes are needed, right?